by Barbra Graber
This is cross-posted from Our Stories Untold
I remember the Sunday morning two Mennonite Youth Fellowship friends were made to get up in front of the congregation to publicly confess their sins. They were pregnant out of wedlock. Meanwhile John Howard Yoder, the most acclaimed Mennonite theologian and symbol of male power in the church sexually assaulted and harassed untold numbers of Mennonite women and was never made to publicly confess. And AMBS, the Mennonite seminary that hired him, was somehow rendered powerless to take action, allowing years of silence and collusion to go by while a file of complaint letters accumulated in the Dean’s office. To their credit, AMBS eventually fired him, but neither AMBS nor Indiana-Michigan Conference has ever been called by the church or anyone else to publicly explain or acknowledge the years of complicity. Quite the opposite.
John Howard Yoder continues to be lauded, his books roll off the presses, and there’s pressure from all sides to go back to business as usual, though again to their credit AMBS has made some helpful changes to the way in which his writings are introduced in the classroom.
I am a survivor of sexual abuse by men of the Mennonite Church, though not JHY. And I have walked through hell and back with many of the church’s soul-scarred women (and men), including victims of JHY. Long time friend Ted Swartz, after reading my recent rant about reviews of JHY’s books in “The Mennonite” asked me, “So what needs to be done? It feels like we are stuck…is it possible to move forward?” I like a challenge from friends and thanks to Ted I sat down again to reflect. I too would like to see us move forward. But we can’t cry “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” There is no peace (and may never be) for many women who lost years if not lifetimes of normal, healthy, joyous living for having been sexually abused by male leaders of the Mennonite Church. And JHY remains a symbol of those widespread woundings like no other churchman.